Top Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia

Top Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta is the second most important historic city on Colombia's Caribbean coast and the oldest European-founded town in South America — by the Spanish in 1525. Like Cartagena, it is a melting pot of indigenous cultures and European, South American, and African influences that has resulted in one of Colombia's most fascinating towns.

Santa Marta, being Colombia's most popular beach destination, provides visitors with a wide variety of exciting options. These are some of our favorites: scavenging for bargains at the public market, exploring lesser-known sites, spotting marine life while scuba diving, and feasting on lobster and ceviche from mobile vendors. Below are our recommended sample things to do in Santa Marta.

Go Scuba Diving

It makes perfect sense why most divers earn their certification in the Caribbean. It is not only affordable, but more importantly, the waters of the Caribbean Sea is filled with underwater beauty. The same goes for the crystal-clear seas of Santa Marta where countless dive shops can be found especially in the adjacent town of Taganga.

Getting a scuba diving tour package will take you to Tayrona National Park complete with transportation, snacks, gear, and study materials so that you can go scuba diving around the islands there.

You may even spot some sea turtles or dolphins among the coral reefs and swarms of tropical fish. You can consult with the Santa Marta Diving and Adventure in the city or Poseidon Dive Center in Taganga.

Trek to the "Lost City”

On this four-day guided trekking tour, you'll explore the mountains and jungles of Colombia's off-the-beaten-path regions. The "Lost City," also known as "Cuidad Perdida," is a collection of archaeological sites that boasts of fascinating stories.

Several visitors claim it is just as impressive as Machu Picchu but prefer it because it is less crowded.

The Tayrona people established the "Lost City" about the year 800 AD. Ciudad Perdida, a city lost in the coastal jungles that not seen again until it was rediscovered in the 1970s, was abandoned about the time the Spanish arrived in mid-16th century.

Only by foot can you access the ruins, which feature stunning stone terraces, staircases, and pathways.

Feed your mind with art and history at Museo del Oro Tairona

The Tayrona Gold Museum is housed in a colonial-era customs house and tells the narrative of Santa Marta, Colombia, its four indigenous peoples, the origins of culture in northern Colombia, and the tremendous ecological significance of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Visitors to this charming tiny museum raves about its well curated displays as opposed to the practice of other museums in South America of just presenting a few dusty items and old explanations. In, here you can expect to learn a lot about the history of Santa Marta thanks also to the detailed English descriptions of each artifacts.

Take a walk through the Colonial Streets of Sta Marta

Santa Marta was founded on July 29th, 1525, making it one of the oldest cities in the Americas and the continent of the Western Hemisphere. It comes as no surprise to find olden and heritage structures all around especially in the Colonial Streets of Santa Marta.

As one of South America's oldest cities, Santa Marta is also the first Spanish settlement in Colombia. This is why, for every visitor, they find it worth the stay or stroll in the city's historic core.

Don’t miss the Cathedral de Santa Marta, a stunning white structure widely believed to be the continent's oldest cathedral. The interior displays the storage area for SimΓ³n Bolvar's remains before they were transferred to his family in Venezuela.

On your route to Park de los Novios, stop and admire the neighborhood's brightly painted colonial buildings and historic homes. The rest of your walk would surely have you admiring impressive architecture and learning more about Santa Marta’s history.

Stuff yourself with delicious Caribbean Street food

The streets of Santa Marta are teeming with vendors serving insanely cheap and freshly prepared regional fare.

Get a styrofoam cup of Colombian ceviche after stuffing yourself with fried fish and arroz de coco (coconut rice) — the addition of ketchup to the mix is intriguing! Fresh fruit and drinks abound; sample exotic varieties like lulo and maracuya that you won't find back home. The cazuela de mariscos (seafood stew) is superb and reasonably priced, and the seafood selection ranges from pargo (snapper) to langostinos (warm water lobsters).

You may also buy grilled chorizo and fried potatoes at the Γ‰xito store, so give them a try! Lulo is the place to go if you want exquisite arepas.

Relax and beach bum at Playa Blanca

Beach Blanca, located just a short distance from Santa Marta, is one of the best beaches in the region. The crowds here are much less intense than in town.

You can go snorkeling here (though watch out for sea urchins), bask in the sun, and climb to a great vantage point. There are also plenty of places to eat fried fish and drink cold beer, as well as a few attractions like banana boat rides and ziplines.

You might also visit the Rodadero Aquarium while you're in the area.

Search for good food and rare finds at Santa Marta Public Market

What they say about feeling the beating heart of a place is when you visit its public market? Rings true in Santa Marta where the public market dishes a medley of the town’s vibrant character.

Situated close to where the bus to Tayrona departs, this massive market is sure to overwhelm your senses.

Spend some time wandering around to get a feel for a real Colombian market, and maybe even try some freshly cooked regional fare. Meat and fish can be found on the ground floor, with clothing, soccer jerseys, shoes, and other goods lining the periphery.

The upper layer is full of fresh produce. Although though it can get a little muddy sometime, the Santa Marta market is a fantastic place to experience the city's vibrant culture and delicious cuisine.

Have yourself some freshly fried fish while you're here, because you won't find it any fresher anywhere else. These are just a few of the many wonderful things you can do in Santa Marta. If you have additional days to further explore, you can make little side trips to neighboring towns such as in Minca for some waterfalls and nature trails.

How to Get to Santa Marta?

By Plane

Santa Marta, Colombia is accessible via a number of transport options. Flying into Simon Bolivar International Airport (SMR), which serves both domestic and international destinations, is the most convenient option. Since flights inside Colombia are inexpensive and the bus rides are lengthy, many people choose to fly from Medellin, Bogota, or Cali to Santa Marta. Shuttles, buses, and taxis are all readily available from the airport to the heart of the city.

Direct flights to Santa Marta are available from Medelln, BogotΓ‘, and Cali, as well as Panama City, but sadly not from Cartagena. You can fly to Santa Marta on several different airlines, including LATAM, Avianca, and Copa Airlines.

By Bus

You can also take a bus from other Colombian cities, such as Cartegena. Travel time from your starting point to Santa Marta by bus might range from 6 hours to 10 hours, depending on the company you choose and the route you follow.

There should be around a 5-hour bus ride from Cartagena to Santa Marta. But you have to factor in Colombian time! Plan on it taking additional hours even if there seems to be no reason for it to take that long.

The route between Cartagena and Santa Marta is serviced by two different bus companies: Berlinas and MarSol. When it comes to bus size, larger MarSol buses are less expensive than their smaller Berlinas counterparts.


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